The Tuxachanie Trail in Mississippi, which volunteer Weston Anderson photographed and reviewed for TrailLink.com.
How Do You Get There From Here?
It must have been 1997, several years before I became president of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC). I was driving a few miles from my home when we passed under a bike/ped bridge with a brand-new sign reading, "Capital Crescent Trail."
"Wow!" I said to my wife. "I wonder how you get on that trail."
That was my introduction to a challenge we continue to face at RTC. We have been hugely successful in helping communities build more than 15,000 miles of rail-trail since 1986. But even as the nation's trail systems continue to expand and connect, many people still don't know about trails in their community or how to access them.
Most often, avid cyclists and runners find out about trails through word-of-mouth. But our nation faces a continuing obesity epidemic, and it is those most in need of increased physical activity who require extra help finding safe places to walk, run, skate and bike. If Americans are to reap the full benefit of our investment in trails and enjoy more active, healthy lifestyles, we must make it easier for them to find and use trails.
That's where TrailLink.com comes in handy. Since it was launched in 2000, RTC's trail-finder Web site has provided information to thousands of trail users every month. But until recently the site has had one major shortcoming: a lack of detailed maps to make it easier to find the trails.
We began to remedy this situation three years ago. With generous support from the Tawani Foundation, Coca-Cola North America and RTC members, we launched an ambitious project to map every rail-trail in America—nearly 1,500 of them—and make those maps available free of charge on the Web. Armed with global positioning system (GPS) units, RTC staff and volunteers have been riding trails throughout America, collecting geospatial data needed to make high-quality maps.
So far we have mapped 449 of the most popular rail-trails in 39 states, totaling more than 6,000 miles. More trails are getting mapped every day.
Now it's a snap for me to find out how to get on the Capital Crescent Trail. I can log on to TrailLink.com and search for the Capital Crescent. After pulling up the trail map, I can click on any of the access points, type in my address and get detailed directions to that spot on the trail. How cool is that?
But please don't take my word for it. With summer here, it's a good time to register on TrailLink.com and try it yourself. You may discover nearby trails you didn't know existed. And with the continued help of our members and supporters, we'll get the remainder of America's rail-trails mapped faster than you can say "geospatial data."